Stephens: Kurt Vonnegut's State of the Union

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

—From " Harrison Bergeron " (1961), a short story by Kurt Vonnegut

The year was 2019 and Americans were finally on their way toward real equality. Not just equality in God's eyes, or before the law, or in opportunity.

They were going to be equal every which way.

All this equality was due to bold new government action. There was the Decent Wage Act of 2017, which pegged the minimum wage to the (inflation-adjusted) average hourly wage of 2016. There was the NEW-AMT, which set a 55% minimum federal tax rate on individual income over $150,000 (or 80% for incomes above $500,000). There was the Unemployment Insurance Is Forever Act of 2018. There was the 2018 De Blasio-Waxman CEO Pay Act, which mandated a 9-to-1 ratio between the highest and lowest paid person in any enterprise.

Happily, none of this harmed the economy in the slightest. Higher minimum wages have "no discernible effect on employment" ( Schmitt, 2013). High marginal tax rates have no effect on productivity and business creation (Piketty-Saez, 2011). Preserving jobless benefits puts money into the hands of consumers and thus stimulates the economy (Zandi, as usual). As for the 9-to-1 pay ratio—that's just plain fairness, OK?

New rules on income weren't the only way America was achieving equality. Thanks to the efforts of Attorney General Thomas Perez, disparate outcome lawsuits were changing the country's public culture in unexpected ways.

For example, the average height of NBA players for the 2007-08 season was just under 6 feet 7 inches. The average American male is 5 feet 9 inches. Patently unequal, patently unfair. Mr. Perez demanded that the NBA establish an average-height rule that would require each team to offset taller players with shorter ones.

Americans quickly adapted to the Midget-Monster rule, as it was lovingly known, though alley-oops were never quite the same.

Another industry transformed by the new rules was Hollywood. For "The Bourne Equilibrium," Matt Damon returned to the title role of Jason Bourne, a former super-assassin now entirely at peace with himself and the world. For his efforts he was paid $330,000 (or $130,000 after federal, state and local taxes), which is still nine times the salary of the second-assistant key grip. It was a far cry from the $20 million he was paid for the 2007 "Bourne Ultimatum" but, as he said, "it was totally worth it" because he now has no choice but to send his children to public school.

Fashion also changed. Victoria's Secret models were henceforth required to parade down catwalks wearing horrible masks resembling bearded Princeton economists. Fox News came out with a roster of all-male, paunchy middle-aged anchors.

And what about Republicans? Though most conservatives were resistant to the Equality Movement, some found the new political environment congenial to their anti-elitist aims.

There was the Grassley-Amash De-Tenure Act of 2016, which abolished the "monstrous inequality" of college-faculty tenure. That was soon followed by the Amash-Grassley Graduate Student Liberation Act of 2017, ending the "master-slave" relationship between professors and their teaching and research assistants.

More controversial was the Grassley-Gowdy De-Ivy Act of 2018, requiring all four-year colleges, public or private, to accept students by lottery. Besides its stated goal of "ending elitism and extending the promise of equality to tertiary education," many conservatives saw it as a backdoor method of eliminating affirmative action. Liberals countered that it had precisely the opposite effect.

Still, it was not enough for Americans to promote equality within America. Also necessary was to seek equality with other nations. In 2017, Sen. Rand Paul joined with Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee to cap defense spending at no more than 2% of gross domestic product. "Brazil only spends 1.5% of their GDP on defense, and they've never been invaded," said Mr. Paul. "Canada spends about 1.2%, and they've only been invaded by us. Maybe the lesson is that a big military makes us less secure, not more."

In the summer of 2018, a software engineer at Los Alamos uploaded detailed blueprints of a Trident missile warhead to the Internet. Mr. Paul praised the engineer, who fled to Ecuador, as "civil disobedient," like Martin Luther King Jr., and noted that many scholars believe nuclear proliferation—or nuclear equality—makes the world a safer place.

Of course, not everyone was happy with the emerging utopia. From his yacht 100 miles off the coast of Marin County, hedge- fund billionaire Tom Perkins wrote bilious letters to The Wall Street Journal, which, mysteriously, the Journal saw fit to publish. Fortunately, investigative ace David Brock was able to establish that Mr. Perkins's real name is Emmanuel Goldstein, and promptly created a Two Minutes Hate program on Media Matters for America, which was very popular.

And then came the State of the Union speech. From the hushed chamber of the House of Representatives, a young Texas congressman named Harrison Bergeron yelled "You lie!" as the president spoke about the joy Americans felt as the promise of equality was finally realized.

Shhhhhh! whispered the rest of the House, in absolute unison. And President Elizabeth Warren carried on.


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